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Trump wanted to slash funding for clean energy. Congress ignored him.

The omnibus spending bill contains funding increases for clean energy research.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry delivers a video statement to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s annual summit earlier this month. Trump’s budget proposal called for eliminating the program.
Umair Irfan is a correspondent at Vox writing about climate change, Covid-19, and energy policy. Irfan is also a regular contributor to the radio program Science Friday. Prior to Vox, he was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed Friday morning and averted a government shutdown increases spending on clean energy and keeps the Environmental Protection Agency funded at current levels.

That’s despite the White House suggestion that Congress cut EPA’s budget by one-third and make drastic reductions in clean energy research.

Tarak Shah, a former chief of staff in the science and energy office at the US Department of Energy, told Vox the bill was an “utter repudiation of the Trump budget!”

The EPA will keep its $8.1 billion budget with a few changes, including $66 million allocated toward the Superfund program for cleaning up highly contaminated sites.

The Department of Energy’s high-risk, high-reward research incubator, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, can also breathe easy. Trump’s budget proposal recommended eliminating the popular program, but Congress gave it a $47 million boost up to $353 million.

The DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, which the White House wanted to gut by $1.3 billion, also got a 15 percent increase to a new total of $2.3 billion.

There are also a few strange energy-related riders: The bill declares biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source, though scientists are still debating whether that’s the case. Livestock producers are permanently exempted from the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, killing any efforts to keep them in check.

On balance, the spending package signals that while the Trump administration is desperate to save American coal and eliminate environmental regulations, lawmakers from both parties still think that protecting the environment is a high priority and that clean energy is a worthwhile endeavor.

Federal agencies, however, have some discretion in how they spend the money Congress gives them, and some departments are dragging their feet when it comes to doing the work they’re supposed to do.

We’re already seeing grant applications and research programs being screened for references to climate change at the EPA, the DOE, and the Department of the Interior. The EPA has seen a decline in enforcement of rules against polluters, and lawmakers have complained that programs like ARPA-E have delayed or not issued the funding that they’re required to provide.

So while many energy and environmental initiatives across government received more cash, there is still an ongoing fight to make sure the money actually gets spent.

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